I am going to make a pretty bold statement. If you have never been to South-East Asia and want an easy introduction, Malaysia in general, and Penang in particular, might just be your best bet. The very multicultural city has just enough hustle and bustle to give you a feel for the region, without being too overwhelming. Streets can be a little chaotic, but not so much so that you can’t easily walk around them. And because of the long British heritage, English is widely understood.
This is particularly useful if you want to sample the local cuisine but have food allergies. While it is reasonably easy to find, say vegetarian food anywhere in South-East Asia, relying on the limited English skills of a Cambodian or Vietnamese waitress to guard against your serious allergy to, for example, sesame, is not the wisest thing to do. So you end up, like someone I know, eating a lot of spaghetti in Vietnam. That is not generally a problem in Malaysia. Of course, you can also go to Singapore, but there you will get the food experience in a very developed, “first world” setting.
One great way to so sample the food is to go to one of the outdoors food courts. Just like in Singapore, you go to various stalls, order and pay for your food, and tell them your table number. (Excuse the bad pictures, shot with a phone in the dark).
The best is to share a few dishes, so I went with a nice French couple I met a few days before in the Cameron Highlands. The Northern Malaysia tourist trail is fairly predictable, unless you make a stop in Ipoh, like I did.
The karaoke show was very enthusiastic. Unlike in Singapore, the stalls are a very touristy affair – or at least this one was. I’m fairly certain all the Chinese men in the picture were tourists.
In multicultural Georgetown, the main city of the island of Penang, you can be in China one minute, walk a few city blocks and…
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